Dubai: Alastair Cook made his Test debut in India, flying to Nagpur from an A tour in the Caribbean. He made a second-innings century and has gone on to add 19 more. With Andrew Strauss retiring after the series defeat against South Africa, Cook, now 27, has the task of guiding England back to the top of the rankings. Ahead of the India tour, he spoke to Wisden India about England’s preparations for the tour in the United Arab Emirates, the return of Kevin Pietersen and how he hopes the team will be more successful than its predecessors.
You've just reached the end of three days here at the ICC Global Cricket Academy. How's it all gone?
It's been brilliant. We've been here before and yet again, the facilities have been fantastic. Three excellent days of hard work, and different types of surfaces we can practice on…We couldn't have asked for anything more. All the lads have got a lot out of it.
Are you ready for India now?
Yeah, still obviously very early days in the tour. We've still got two and a half weeks preparation when we get to India before the first Test. We'll continue to work as hard as we have here and I'm sure, come the first Test, we'll be as ready as we can be.
So why the ICC Global Cricket Academy? Why not go to India or anywhere else in the world and prepare?
I don't think we're allowed in India before the Champions League finished [the final was on October 28] so we had to find somewhere to train outdoors. Obviously at home, I think it's snowing. This is on the way and the facilities are fantastic. Last time we were here was last year, and we got looked after superbly. It's been no different here.
What facilities have you used? Have you used bowling machines, Pro Batter, all that sort of stuff?
We haven't been indoors much. We've been using as many nets as we can, in-the-middle preps, the gym and the indoor school for fitness as well. The facilities out here are second to none.
So what have you actually done in the nets or asked to be done to the nets? Have you asked for anything in particular in terms of preparation?
To be as similar as they can be to Indian conditions. Here at the Cricket Academy, they have different types of surfaces. So if you're going to Australia, they can try to prepare wickets like Australia beforehand. Some of the nets are very subcontinent-like. So that's what we asked for. We've asked for as many nets as we can. They've provided us with that and we've been using it pretty much every day for a long period of time.
Has there been any fitness work or has it been a cricket-specific camp?
Well, clearly this is a very skill-based sport. We've done a lot of fitness back at home. A few of the lads had some fitness tests that they couldn't get in when they were home, so they had them here. But we've been in the gym as well so it's been a mixture. It's been brilliant and we've made the most of the three days.
In terms of spin, you've mentioned that, the pitches compared to how they'd be in India…are you satisfied that you've addressed that issue now with the three days here?
We can never address the issue totally. Some of it, we need to work on constantly. In the nets, we've been doing that and that work will continue. I think at the end of the tour of Pakistan [in the Middle East earlier this year] some home truths were learnt and we've worked as hard as we could and tried to put a few things right. We had a fantastic Test match in Colombo, we won there. Again, a notoriously hard place to go and win but we did that. We're definitely on the right track. It doesn't mean we've finished. It's a lot of hard work and we have to keep improving as it's so different to what we're used to at home.
One person who is not here, of course, is Kevin Pietersen. Has he been mentioned at all in the dressing room? Has his name come up at all?
Yeah, he joins us tomorrow, and we're looking forward to getting him back in the team. And what's gone is gone. Things have been sorted and we don't need to keep working on them. It's great to have a world-class player back in the ranks.
Is it going to be awkward for him coming back to join the players here, having all been together for three days?
No, not at all. Kev's been around a long time. Apart from a couple of guys – Joe Root and Nick Compton haven't played much with him – everyone else has played a lot of cricket with him. I don't see that at all. I'm sure, reading what he's said in South Africa, he can't wait to get out here and as a captain, that's a great place for me to be.
You're in the captain's seat now and over the last year, the team's lost six Test matches. You've slipped from where you were. How are you going to address the slide?
Clearly over the past 12 months we haven't played as good cricket as we had done in the last two years leading up to that. It's not all doom and gloom. We've got a fantastic squad. It's a lot of hard work like it is for any side in international cricket. You work as hard as you can and there's never any magic formula. And I know that the lads are keen to do that and keen to put as many good performances as we can together.
And finally, there's been a bit of brouhaha about one of the Indian warm-up games. The fact that they haven't named a spinner in their side, is that something that particularly bothers you at all?
Not really. We're not in charge of who they pick or what they pick or what they do. We can only control what we do. We'll have to get the best out of that game. And we'll get the best out of those two weeks so we're ready. We cannot use any excuse whatsoever.
1984-85…the last time England won in India. Can you turn that around and make it a success this time?
Well, we're certainly not going there to make up the numbers. That's never the way I play my cricket and I wouldn't expect my team to do so.